Farmers can take a number of measures to help both water quality and, in some cases, their own pockets, according to advice offered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland earlier today (Wednesday, July 14), EPA programme manager Mary Gurrie commented on the agency’s latest report on water quality.

This morning the agency published the “Water Quality in 2020: An Indicators Report” which provides an assessment of the quality of Ireland’s rivers, lakes, estuaries and groundwaters.

According to the report, the main threat to water quality is high nutrient levels, such as phosphorus and nitrogen which come from human activities such as agriculture.

Commenting on what farmers can do to bring down these nitrogen levels, Gurrie said:

“There are measures that can be taken in terms of reducing. A lot of the fertiliser that was being applied [last year contributing to high nitrogen levels] was actually being wasted.

“It’s costing farmers time and money to apply it – and it’s just going straight out into the water. That’s certainly an immediate measure.

“Things like good nutrient management planning so that you know how much nitrogen you need and are applying it at the right time; things like clover and mixed swards which are good for biodiversity as well – but they’re nitrogen fixing so they reduce the amount of nitrogen that’s needed.

“There’s a whole host of measures. Really we’d encourage farmers to talk with their advisors about the measures that can be taken; and we really need to see it at policy level in our Nitrates Action Programme and at industry level actions to really tackle this problem.

“We’ve been saying for a number of years that nitrogen levels are increasing and are going in the wrong direction – and they are threatening the quality of our water.”

It was highlighted that there are other factors on the reduction in water quality also, such as wastewater from urban areas and individual septic tanks. On this, Gurrie said:

“Wastewater remains a significant pressure on a lot of our water bodies. There’s about 200 waterbodies that are being impacted by urban wastewater.

“The EPA regulates Irish Water and we have called for sustained investment – there’s a huge amount of work to be done to improve our wastewater infrastructure. We still have 35 sites discharging raw sewage, which is really unacceptable in 2021. That is a pressure.

“We also have domestic wastewater systems, like septic tanks are a pressure on a lot of waterbodies and again we’d encourage people to inspect your septic tank; make sure it’s working properly and maintain it.

“As well as related to our overall water quality, it’s also a very local risk to people’s drinking water source,” Gurrie warned.